The creator of Captain Underpants returns to the painterly style of his Caldecott honor book, Paperboy (1996), to illustrate Blanco’s poem, written for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
Pilkey chooses a landscape orientation to capture the poem’s sea-to-shining-sea epic sweep, giving readers three characters—a pigtailed black girl, a red-capped white boy, and a black cat—to follow through the titular day. They leave their house as the sun rises, wander benign city streets and play in parks while their mother works, then pick her up at the end of the day to return home in “the plum blush of dusk.” He doesn’t confine himself to simply mirroring the poem’s abundant visual images, instead adopting a kaleidoscopic approach that uses the sun’s diagonal rays to control compositions. Some double-page spreads are multiply fractured, capturing the nation’s busyness, while others are solemn and contemplative, as in a low-angle, blue-dominated image of the children from waist down that accompanies the lines commemorating “the empty desks of twenty children marked absent / today, and forever.” Trucks, school buses, and bridges form visual leitmotifs; a saturated, pastel palette modulates with the poem’s moods; cityscapes are made welcoming with softly rounded horizon lines; the seasons change with the text of the poem across this “one today,” taking readers from spring to winter.
When it was read, the poem was instantly acclaimed; Pilkey’s visual interpretation fully—and joyfully—honors it. (Picture book. 4-8)